Updated: Aug 6, 2018
Literally right now, as we speak. Y'all do not even understand how much of my brain I had to pull apart to write this post. Uhh, you're welcome.
Can I be honest with you? I really had no idea what to write about this week. I’ve felt scattered and transient and jaggedly pieced together. My brain hasn’t seemed as functional in the last several weeks, and it’s been difficult for me to adequately string two sentences together, much less form fully cohesive thoughts that have a beginning, middle, and end.
The awful truth is that I don’t really know how to make my brain behave, how to quell the cloying sweetness of a hard stop, the awful allure of adrenaline coursing through my veins. I work well with projects because I work well under deadlines. Otherwise, it’s difficult for me to restrain my restlessness, to corral my attention in one place for any period of time.
I’ve always been a procrastinator, for as long as I can remember. Deadlines invigorate me, an insurance policy that I will deliver what I have promised. It’s rare that I feel comfortable breaking them. They force me into action and motivate me into completion. I never questioned this part of myself, always assumed it to be a normal quirk of my personality. Total sidebar: I’ve often been told that I’m “quirky.” It never comes across as a compliment. It’s 100% a moderately polite way of saying I’m a weird motherfucker with an obscure sense of humor, which I absolutely cop to. Who says I’m not self aware? But FYI, next time, just say “With all due respect, I think you’re incredibly bizarre.” It’s much more direct, and somehow still passive aggressive.
But in this year of uncomfortable self examination—a deep dive into all of the destructive thoughts and behaviors that, for so long, I’ve assumed are who I am—I understand that many things I’ve taken for granted as fact are actually myths I’ve created to protect myself from, well, myself. For most of my life, I’ve ceded responsibility for my behavior to this thing I didn’t even know I had, accepting that this is who I am. How devastating to paint myself into such a staid and restrictive corner. To do so entirely eliminates the context and nuance that makes humanity so interesting, so colorful, so alive.
This is the only brain I’ve ever known. I have no comparison to a baseline below anxious. Therefore, I can’t dictate what is normal. For me, this is normal. It’s my reality, and most days, it’s one I relish. But then I miss a deadline. Or the laundry piles up. Or I forget to send an email. I prevaricate the reasons why I’ve failed, why I haven’t done that thing I need to do. I’m too tired. Or too busy. Too broken, too weary. But I merely lie to myself, girding my mental loins against the inevitable shame and self immolation, knowing that it always comes.
But we all do it, don’t we? We all delay sleep or laundry or homework for one more episode on Netflix, one more game on Xbox. But one more almost always becomes one more after that, and another, and another, and another. Soon I’ve spent twelve straight hours watching The Office, and the laundry is still piled in hamper, the blog post is still unwritten. Honestly, why would Reed Hastings incorporate that “Play Next Episode” button if not as a challenge to all of his viewers, and by all of his viewers, I mean me?
But the problem with Play Next Episode while living on anxious brain is that, often, everything is hard. Everything feels heavy. It’s so much easier to retreat into the mindless comfort of television or sleep or books or vodka than to confront a reality of failure and disappointment. I can’t write poorly if I don’t write at all. I can’t lose a job for which I’ve never applied. I can’t emotionally scar a child if I never have one. But real life simply breeds disappointment. Isn’t that how we know it’s real? Isn’t that why Elon Musk thinks we’re all living in an alternate reality? When your life is as exotic and unimaginable as his, who wouldn’t choose that reality instead of one devoted to stress and suffering and tragedy? With so little within our control, we can never truly guarantee a positive outcome. For me, it is a jarring—and devastating—realization.
Anxiety dictates my behavior because, for a lifetime, I’ve allowed it to. I can’t fail if I’ve never truly tried. But I’ve merely replaced the disappointment of failure with the disappointment of inaction. I’ve found that I could live with my small shame, the tiny pinpricks of knowing I could be better or do better or live better. I don’t need to make excuses, however feeble, for something not within my control. But what to do when I can no longer cede my responsibility to the unknown, when the myth of who I am is finally shattered?
My fears about job searching and parenting and traveling and writing are all real and justified. Rejection is aggressive and overwhelming. So little is within my control, and I am terrified of what that means. But this is part of my progress. It’s how I know I’ve made progress. A year ago all I made for myself were excuses. And those merely brought me were a series of panic attacks and constant emotional exhaustion, a dense, black ball of self loathing lodged firmly inside my chest, whispering my failures to me once more, and another, and another, and another.
If I accept that I can coexist with my baseline then I must accept that I can change these parts of myself that bring me shame. It’s a new discovery, and the evolution is incremental, happening once more, and another, and another, softly building momentum to true transformation, slowly easing the self loathing into self acceptance. This may be who I am, but it doesn’t have to be who I become.